If you’re handicapping Friday’s all-stakes late Pick Five at Churchill Downs, you won’t want to miss the discussion I had with Gino Buccola and Darin Zoccali earlier this week on Gino’s podcast, “That’s What G Said.” We talked for nearly two hours about the sequence, which is headlined by the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. It’s up wherever you get your podcasts, and I’ve linked to it on social media, too.
Also, “Champagne and J.D.” returns with a vengeance this week, and that will be online during the day Friday. We sat down with Joe Nevills from The Paulick Report to discuss Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, and we also got some thoughts from several friends of the program who submitted videos with picks, insights, and stories of past Runs for the Roses. Specifically, I’d suggest you listen to one story in particular about the 1986 Kentucky Derby, which saw Ferdinand rally to get the money thanks to an all-time ride by Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker.
THURSDAY’S RESULTS: For the second straight day, my action was wiped out by a surface switch.
FRIDAY’S PLAY: I’m going to have tickets at both Saratoga and Churchill Downs. My Saratoga action focuses on the sixth race, where I’ll play a $20 win ticket on #6 RAVEN ROCKS and single him to finish a cold $5 double starting in the fifth with #2 FIFTY FIVE. Meanwhile, at Churchill Downs, I’ll have some fun singling #8 MONOMOY GIRL in $4 doubles starting and ending in the 11th race, the Grade 1 La Troienne. These doubles start in the 10th (the Grade 2 Alysheba) with #3 OWENDALE, #6 BY MY STANDARDS, and #7 TITLE READY, and end in the 12th (the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks) with #1 SWISS SKYDIVER, #2 TEMPERS RISING, and #3 DONNA VELOCE.
TOTAL WAGERED: $49.
Best Bet: Fifty Five, Race 5
Longshot: Raven Rocks, Race 6
#2 ROSSA VELOCE: Prevailed at first asking for a barn whose horses often need a race or two to get going. That sharp victory earned her a 77 Beyer Speed Figure, and any forward movement at second asking would make her tough in the first of six stakes races on this program; #1 MAKE MISCHIEF: Has earned black type with a pair of graded stakes placings at the meet and drops in to face state-breds here. The experience and back class could both be big assets for her, and I think there’s a good chance she goes favored; #6 QUEEN ARELLA: Made up a lot of ground in her debut at Gulfstream before suffering from a horrible trip in the Grade 3 Schuylerville. The outside draw should move her up, and the recent four-furlong drills look pretty solid.
Judge N Jury
#5 SARATOGA FLASH: Will look to give Team Tiz the Law a thrill on Kentucky Derby Eve in his debut. Among others, he’s a half-brother to stakes-winner Nine Route, and the recent five-furlong bullet workout jumps off the page; #8 JUDGE N JURY: Showed some speed in his debut despite a stumble after the break. He hammered for $200,000 last year, and I think he might have gotten a lot out of his debut effort; #4 SKIPPINGANDAJUMPIN: Ships up from Monmouth for Kelly Breen, who can certainly get first-time starters ready to run. Whether or not the morning form will travel north is anyone’s guess, but 10-1 hits me as an overlay in a wide-open event.
#6 CITY MAN: Hasn’t won in a while but comes back to the state-bred ranks and has shown he can go two turns. Both of his wins have come over this dirt course, and we may get an inflated price given the presence of the morning line favorite (more on him later); #1 MICROSECOND: Broke his maiden in his first try going two turns earlier in the meet. Yes, that was on turf, but his pedigree says he wants to go as long as possible, and Luis Saez will likely have him on or near a pretty slow early pace; #4 CHESTERTOWN: Has been a buzz horse ever since selling for $2,000,000 last year. However, his lone win came over a suspect field at Aqueduct. He does exit a far tougher race, but at his likely price, I simply cannot endorse him on top. If he beats me, I’ll live with it.
I’m Blaming You
#5 MARTINEZ: Had a lot of trouble in his debut, where he broke last and did enough to get third money despite the trip he had. Two turns should fit him like a glove, and he runs for a barn whose horses usually improve with experience; #12 I’M BLAMING YOU: Needs some luck to draw in but will be a major player if he does. Like my top pick, he was third in his debut going shorter and is bred to improve with distance and seasoning; #3 CHROME DIXIE: Debuts for Christophe Clement and will get plenty of attention at the windows, due in no small part to sire California Chrome. It’s tough for a horse to debut going two turns, but Joel Rosario sees fit to ride and he’s a half-brother to a pair of winners.
#2 FIFTY FIVE: Won her return to the races off a long layoff downstate and looms large against a field of many runners she’s dispatched in prior events. Graded races have proven just a bit too tough for her, but this is absolutely the right level, and this millionaire’s usual race beats these; #4 CLASSIC LADY: Won a similar race earlier in the meet and hasn’t finished out of the top two since March of 2019. I maintain she may be best around one turn, but perhaps she’s in career-best form as a 5-year-old; #1 MYHARTBLONGSTODADY: Came back running off the bench with a four-length score against optional claiming foes. This is a class test, but she showed a new dimension last time out and may be another getting better as she gets older.
#6 RAVEN ROCKS: Sold for $220,000 two summers ago and finally debuts as a 3-year-old. She has several solid workouts downstate, Jose Lezcano sees fit to ride, and anytime one can get 15-1 odds on a first-time starter by Into Mischief, it’s attractive; #3 ADVANCED STRATEGY: Has run reasonably well in all three of her starts to this point. She comes back to dirt after being a beaten favorite in a pair of turf sprints, and perhaps the surface switch will move her forward; #5 PAPA LUKE: Was probably supposed to win last time out when he hit the front in the stretch as a 6/5 favorite. However, he hung badly to finish third, and while he’s got plenty of early speed, we’re getting to a point where he’s becoming hard to trust.
Hold the Salsa
Lookin for Trouble
#3 MARKET ALERT: Beat several of these rivals in a debut victory downstate before finding the Grade 2 Saratoga Special too tough. The blinkers come on for this event, and I think he’ll relish the drop in class; #7 HOLD THE SALSA: Rallied from way back to win his debut before coming up empty in the Saratoga Special. The faster they go early, the better this one’s chances figure to be, and it sure looks like there’s some speed signed on; #4 LOOKIN FOR TROUBLE: Stepped forward second time out to break his maiden in a wire-to-wire score last month. This is certainly a tougher spot, but Jose Ortiz rides back for Mike Maker and perhaps he’s the speed of the speed.
Summer At the Spa
#6 ASTORIA KITTEN: Sure seems like the main speed in here and did everything but win against similar company last time out. She was nosed by a genuine “horse for the course” that day, and this certainly seems like a weaker spot; #7 MORNING COLORS: Won going two turns at first asking back in March, which isn’t easy to do. That makes her misfire last time out at Belmont a bit puzzling, but if she runs back to her debut, she’s got a shot at a bit of a price; #8 SUMMER AT THE SPA: Exits the same race as my top pick and was one-paced that day. I think that may have been a bit of a bounce off of a strong second back in June, which doubled as her first race since November.
Rodriguez entry (MTO)
#8 FREEWHEELER: Ran like a horse in need of a race earlier this summer, when he was second against similar company as an odds-on favorite. I think he’ll move forward second off the bench, and a return to his 2-year-old form would make him very tough to beat; #11 THREE OUTLAWS: Topped starter allowance foes at this route two back before a non-threatening effort in an off-the-turf event. He should move forward coming back to the grass, but the outside post might be a tough obstacle to overcome; #9 LUNA’S IN CHARGE: Hasn’t won this year but has run second twice at this stand and was beaten a nose last time out. He gets a big rider switch to Jose Ortiz and may be the one they have to hold off late.
#5 CRITICAL VALUE: Has done very little wrong to this point in her career and looms large in this spot. She was very good in her 2020 debut, when she smashed older state-breds in the Bouwerie, and facing her fellow 3-year-olds may make for a significant class drop; #1 MAKINGCENTS: Completes a powerful 1-2 punch for trainer Jeremiah Englehart and sure seems like the main speed. She was third against open allowance foes earlier in the meet, but won her prior two starts against state-breds by a combined margin of greater than 18 lengths; #2 ICE PRINCESS: Chased Swiss Skydiver in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn, and these waters are significantly shallower. Two turns is still a major question mark, but if she gets the trip, she’s absolutely got a big shot.
#1 DOT MATRIX: Gets significant class relief after chasing top-notch turf horses for most of the season. The highlight of his campaign was a win in a Grade 3 at Sam Houston, and he has enough tactical speed to use the inside post to his advantage; #4 GUCCI FACTOR: Accomplished a lot in 2018 and 2019 before going to the sidelines. He almost certainly needed his return in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy, but while a return to his best form could win this event, it’s fair to be skeptical given how little he showed in his 2020 debut; #5 RINALDI: Loves this turf course and went wire-to-wire against optional claiming company earlier in the meet. That day’s third-place finisher has since come back to win, and this barn has been firing on all cylinders for the entire meet.
Imperio D (MTO)
#4 SMITE: Has shown plenty of early zip against straight maidens and drops in for a tag for the first time. The “speed against better” angle is a powerful one, and with top gate rider Luis Saez in the saddle, the game plan certainly appears clear; #2 TEMPESTA: Has run well twice since returning to this circuit and rallied to miss by a neck at this level and route last time out. He’s got some versatility to him, which should give jockey Jose Lezcano plenty of options depending on how the race unfolds; #9 FLUENT IN SARCASM: Dueled through very fast fractions last time out, but was beaten just a length despite doing all the dirty work. He’s got the talent to win, for sure, and he’ll have a big chance if he can clear the field early from his outside post.